North America’s Premier Driver Development Series Continues to Raise the Bar
Despite its years of consistently producing some of the top talent in all of motorsports, the Champ Car Atlantic Championship underwent a dramatic facelift last season.
Thanks to the creative ownership group of the Champ Car World Series and the remarkable cooperation of the Atlantic sponsors, teams and suppliers, the series reinvented itself for 2006. Featuring an all-new competition package, an infusion of new teams and driving talent and an unprecedented championship bonus designed to ensure that the cream of the Atlantic crop would earn an opportunity in Champ Car, the series flourished as one of the top circuits in all of racing last season.
In 2007, the new Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda will raise the bar even higher. Now with a full year of experience with the made-in-the-USA Atlantic Swift 016.a chassis powered by a 2.3-liter Mazda-Cosworth engine capable of producing 300-horsepower, Atlantic teams have refined their racing packages.
New series partner and exclusive tire supplier Cooper Tire joins the Atlantic family this season and if pre-season testing was any indication, the new rubber will make for even more exciting racing with improved lap times and closer competition.
Another talented crop of racing superstars on the rise descends on Atlantic this year, featuring race winners and championship contenders from across the globe. As they pursue the prestigious series crown and the unique and impressive $2 million champion’s grand prize, it calls to mind the glory days of Atlantic racing.
While records are bound to broken and many new memories made in ’07, today’s Atlantic racers are merely carrying on the tradition established by the fierce series competitors from years past.
The list of Atlantic graduates over the past 33 years reads like a “who’s who” of open-wheel racing royalty. Rahal. Vasser. Villeneuve. Sullivan. Andretti. Rosberg. Tracy. Hornish. Wheldon. Every one of the aforementioned drivers used the series as a springboard to legendary careers in open-wheel racing worldwide, and it is that heritage that has given the Champ Car Atlantic Championship the right to declare itself “the premier open-wheel driver development series in North America.”
As it should be, the Champ Car World Series has reaped the most benefits from drivers with previous Atlantic experience. Ten of 29 Champ Car series championships have been won by former Atlantic competitors, including three-time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal, 1988 champ Danny Sullivan, two-time champion Al Unser Jr., ’95 titlist Jacques Villeneuve, 1996 champion Jimmy Vasser and 2003 champ Paul Tracy. Michael Andretti, the 1983 Atlantic champion, parlayed his Atlantic success into a career that made him the winningest driver in Champ Car World Series history and earned him the 1991 series crown.
Atlantic graduates also accounted for 181 Champ Car victories through the end of the 2006 season, or 41 percent of all Champ Car races have been won by drivers who used Atlantic as their stepping stone. With a talented crop of recent Atlantic grads in the series, led by 2006 Atlantic champ Simon Pagenaud, 2006 series runner-up Graham Rahal, ‘05 Atlantic sensation Katherine Legge, former series standouts Ryan Dalziel and Alex Figge and more, look for that number to grow even larger in the years to come.
However, the open-wheel racing success of Atlantic graduates does not stop with the Champ Car World Series. Two former Atlantic competitors, Keke Rosberg and Jacques Villeneuve, have claimed the world’s biggest racing prize, the Formula One World Championship. Likewise, the winningest driver in Indy Racing League history, the Indy Car series’ only three-time champion and the reigning Indianapolis 00 winner, Sam Hornish Jr., came up through Champ Car Atlantic. Dan Wheldon, 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner and the ‘05 IRL series champion cut his teeth in Atlantic competition. Buddy Rice, the 2000 Atlantic champion and 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner, also rose through the Atlantic ranks as did 1999 IRL champion Greg Ray, 2005 IRL Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick and a host of other Indy Car race winners.
Heading into its 34th season in 2007, the series is ready to continue churning out top-level prospects for all levels of motorsport. The Atlantic series features a 12-race calendar with popular stops throughout the United States and Canada and improved television coverage through ESPN2.
There’s no doubt that the Champ Car Atlantic Championship has seen many talented drivers and teams pass through its ranks over the past 33 years. The series is poised to continue that tradition in 2007 and beyond.